An athlete in central Assam’s Karbi Anglong district was tortured for allegedly practicing witchcraft earlier this week. The injuries she sustained could prevent her from representing India in an international masters’ meet in Malaysia.
Javelin thrower Debjani Bora, 51, who won a gold medal in the 2011 national masters in Haryana, said the local naamgharia – person who heads the community prayer hall – and his men tortured her after holding her responsible for a string of deaths in village Cherekali.
The village is 180km east of Guwahati.
“A few people in the village died of alcoholism while a jilted lover committed suicide in the past few months. But instead of getting to the root of the problem, some village elders concurred a witch was driving the people to death and organised a puja.
Midway through the chanting of hymns, naamgharia Radha Laskar identified me as the witch,” Bora told HT.
Moments later, the naamgharia and a few others grabbed Bora, wrapped her in a couple of fishing nets and rained blows. “I managed to flee after sustaining injuries on the chest and back,” she said, apprehensive of missing out on the trip to Malaysia.
Karbi Anglong superintendent of police Mugdha Jyoti Mahanta said, “We have arrested Laskar, who could have targeted the woman for personal reasons.”
Athletics aside, Bora works on others’ paddy fields for a living. Her husband is a daily wage earner while one of her three sons is a labourer in a Meghalaya colliery.
Witchcraft is rampant in Assam, particularly among the Bodo and Rabha tribes and the Adivasis or tea plantation workers. In the last five years, more than 80 persons – a few of them men – were beheaded, burnt alive or stabbed to death on suspicion of being witches.